I currently do a lot of side work in the comic industry, predominately in vectoring. That said, I am often asked to consult on story ideas. In comics you can get away with layers on layers of bazaar characters. Talking animals teaming up with robot toys, toped off with super villains. Its such a visual scene, and those that read comics are more inclined to have pretty intense imagination.
My question is, can you get away with this same eclectic character set and fantasy rules in a novel, and be taken seriously? I've read a few books that I felt went over the top, almost like the author could not make up their mind as to what type of fantasy they were trying to portray in their universe. Any thoughts?
That depends. As an editor of erotic Romances, you can get away with quite a bit relating to romantic stuff in the novels I edit, but a superhero would be decidedly out-of-place (unless it were an erotic Romance of comic characters, a venue I have not seen yet so maybe there is money there).
The problem I run into with authors most often is plausibility (if you are going to have zero-g sex you have to show some venue in which it is possible) or historic matters (in Regency and historical novels, where an anachronism is inadvertently written in).
Authors hate being told "that's not possible" even if you do it gently. I had a book I was editing once, set in Victorian Charleston, SC, which had as a place a round Anglican church built in 1615. The author was really upset with me when I told her she needed to change the age of her church: the Province of South Carolina was not settled until later, General Sherman destroyed much of Charleston in his long march, and only a few years later the greatest earthquake in the recorded history of North America destroyed what was left.
On top of that, I'd lived in Charleston and could personally attest there were no buildings prior to the end of the Civil War there.
She was horrified I would actually apply facts to her Romance novel, but in truth the more factual a novel is, the more believable it is as well.
I'm thinking back to the days when I tried my hand at improvisational comedy, and one of the main tenets was that if one actor sets up a "reality," the rest of the actors must respect it. So if actor #1 sets the scene in the jungles of South Korea, the others have to play along, they can't correct that reality by pointing out that in real life there are no jungles in South Korea.
So in writing, you get to set up your reality and then run with it, and I think the key thing is to always respect that reality by understanding its limits so that you can push as close to edge as possible without falling off. The moment of falling off being the point where you lose your reader. Whether realistic, fantasy, or whatever type of fiction we're talking about, what this is all about is verisimilitude. If your setting is contemporary Boston, you probably won't get away with putting a launch pad on the Common; if it's Boston in 2100 you can create the reality in which that is possible, as long as you then stay true to that.
That would apply to characters as well. Just look at Tolkien; he invented Hobbits, drew on traditions of elves, dwarves, dragons, and troll-ish beings, threw in some walking talking trees, all while captivating millions of readers for a thousand or so pages. As a writer I think it would be a tremendously fun exercise to take your idea, define the reality, and see what it will hold while remaining true to itself. If it rings out of tune, you'll probably be the first to know, because the work itself will tell you.